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Analysis: Breaking Down Mac Jones and the Patriots Offense's First Day of Minicamp

Quarterback Mac Jones discusses the offense's progress and more offensive takeaways from day one of Patriots minicamp. 

Patriots quarterback Mac Jones (10).
Patriots quarterback Mac Jones (10).

The Patriots began their three-day mandatory minicamp with a practice session on the field behind Gillette Stadium on Monday, where New England's new-look offense remains a top storyline.

With offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien back in the fold to direct the offense, the Patriots continue to install the basic foundation of their playbook, making these spring practices more about mental reps while learning the basis of O'Brien's system rather than actual results.

For third-year quarterback Mac Jones and his teammates, this time of year is about getting everyone on the same page and buying into the offense's direction in the second O'Brien era.

"There's a good juice around the building. It's super early. You have to be consistent, and it's definitely a marathon, not a sprint," Jones told reporters after Monday's practice. "We've come in here and really bought into the system. That will really show in training camp and preseason. It's sometimes hard to show that out here [in OTA practices]. But I've been really pleased with the tight ends, running backs, and all the receivers."

"I feel like there are things that pop up in practice, issues, and we just try to fix them on the run, and we have tools to do that. It's all about your toolbox, and that's what's so great about this system is that you use it as a quarterback obviously the most. The most is put on you. But that's a good thing because you have tools to fix it."

In the early stages of the spring, we are beginning to see signs of progress in terms of on-field chemistry and execution when the defense starts to put pressure on the offense in practice.

During one team period in Monday's practice, the Patriots defense dialed up the pressure on Jones with an all-out blitz. The Pats starting quarterback made a few adjustments at the line of scrimmage, bought himself enough time, and delivered a pass in-stride to wide receiver Kendrick Bourne who had plenty of open field to run after the catch.

Although you never put too much stock into non-padded practices, the completion against the blitz looked smooth for a quarterback that ranked last in ESPN's QBR efficiency metric against the blitz last season.

"Everyone is trying out new things. They [the defense] are allowed to try whatever they want, and we are allowed to do whatever we want. It goes back to following your rules and identifying where it [the pressure] is coming from. It's hard because they throw the kitchen sink at you."

"They do a great job. It's kind of fun too. You learn something every day because you might not have seen it, or Steve [Belichick] is in there all night drawing something up that looks like something you saw, but then it's something else. Shout out to those guys for just doing a great job," Jones said of those moments in practice when defensive play-caller Steve Belichick dials up the pressure.

Along with giving quarterbacks and the offense more problem-solving tools at the line of scrimmage, Patriots practices to this point have a similar schematic feel as Pats practices of old.

After New England tried to open up the deep passing game and incorporate more zone runs a year ago, O'Brien's system resembles Josh McDaniels's playbook. In another slower-tempo team period, the Pats spent time working on under-center play-action schemes where tight ends Hunter Henry and Mike Gesicki were heavily featured.

The duo have been prominent figures in New England's passing game this spring, with Gesicki's fluidity and explosiveness to create separation at the break point showing up. Jones layered a touch crossing pattern to Hunter Henry over a safety in man coverage for his best downfield throw of the day. Gesicki shook a defender on a corner pattern for another completion.

There's a chance that featuring the two tight ends and a more efficient approach aimed to attack the short and intermediate levels of the defense is due to the offensive personnel available. For instance, wide receivers JuJu Smith-Schuster and Tyquan Thornton did not participate in Monday's practice. But this is also what you expect from an O'Brien-led offense.

Smith-Schuster hasn't participated in any of the sessions in the four open practices to the media this spring. Along with Thornton, who is reportedly dealing with an injury after a fast start to OTAs, starting left tackle Trent Brown also wasn't present for the first day of minicamp.

The Patriots are still waiting for all their offensive pieces to be together on the field, but that hasn't stopped QB1 from getting to know his new top receiver. According to Jones, the Pats quarterback and free-agent addition JuJu Smith-Schuster continue to have conversations and take reps behind the scenes.

"We have gotten some reps together. We are always talking about the offense, certain plays, and things that he likes. I think that's good, just the conversations to try to see it how he sees it," Jones said of Smith-Schuster. "He really does have a good understanding of football. He has really bought into the offense. He is always studying and things like that."

Another minor storyline based on practice observations is that Jones tends to go through mental reps behind ongoing plays when he isn't under center. Some have read that as Mac keeping his distance from teammates and coaches, but the quarterback had a different explanation.

"One of the biggest things to me in these practices, and everybody does this, is trying to get reps on your own. That's one of the things that they preach. You aren't always in there in OTAs, right? We always try to split the reps up," Jones explained. "For me, it's just about getting my part done. Not only what would I do, but if this happens, what would I do? Just trying to play the game within the game, and not just standing there and doing nothing."

As for his relationship with head coach Bill Belichick, Jones explained that he relishes the opportunity to pick Belichick's brain about the defense's perspective. In the past, quarterbacks have spoken about Belichick's ability to break down opposing defenses to simplify the game to the point where some describe Belichick as having a crystal ball.

"I definitely just want to learn and be a sponge. I just pick his brain about defense because he's really good at the defensive side of the ball and learning that part of it. That's what he does well. So it's great to learn from him," Jones said.

Lastly, acknowledging it was hypothetical, the Patriots quarterback, not surprisingly, sounded upbeat about the possibility of adding five-time Pro Bowl receiver DeAndre Hopkins. Hopkins took a free-agent visit to the Titans on Monday and is reportedly heading to Foxboro next.

"DeAndre [Hopkins] is a great player. If you watch his film from college all the way through the NFL, he has done a great job. Obviously, we'd love to have him. But we have a great group of guys, and we know we want to win. I've been really pleased with the playmakers that we have on our team."

Spring practices will always have ups and downs as teams try to get everyone on the same page to move forward once the pads come on in a few months. The Pats offense, facing a stingy defense in practice every day that presents challenges, is no different. More importantly, these practices are about seeing a clear path toward high-level execution.

As they lay the foundation for the 2023 season, the vibes are optimistic based on the initial installation of the Patriots offense through four OTA and minicamp practices.

DISCLAIMER: The views and thoughts expressed in this article are those of the writer and don't necessarily reflect those of the organization. Read Full Disclaimer

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